Competition policy review launched, debate erupts over scope

Small Business Minister Bruce Billson yesterday launched the long-awaited competition policy review, but a conflict has erupted over its scope.

The root and branch review of competition policy is the first since 1993 and will be headed by Deloitte Access Economics partner Professor Ian Harper.

Others on the panel include Regional Australia Institute chief executive Su McCluskey, barrister Michael O’Bryan and former chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Peter Anderson.

Council of Small Business of Australia executive director Peter Strong told SmartCompany McCluskey would be a good representative for small business.

“She gets small business in a very real way and that’s just one of her skills. She’s also great with policy development and she’s got a strong connection with regional Australia,” she says.

“She used to do a lot of work with the Farmers’ Federation as well and she understands the supply chain issues. She’s not one to miss unintended consequences of policy and has a working knowledge of a lot of sectors.”

Strong is also meeting with Harper next week to discuss the needs of small business and says Anderson also understands SMEs.

The COSBOA head has applauded the terms of reference of the review for being wide-ranging. However, the Australian Industry Group said in a statement yesterday it believes it should be narrowed.

“The draft terms of reference cover a vast amount of ground. They seem to combine at least two reviews in one,” Ai Group said.

“It will be very important for the Review to narrow things down fairly quickly. The alternative is to have on the table every issue that could be touched by the very broad terms of reference. That is unrealistic in a 12-month review and, as Minister Billson has indicated, there is a need to zoom in on areas that will have broad impact.”

This view is in opposition to that of COSBOA, which believes the review needs to be wide-ranging in order to be effective.

“One of the things we’re hearing is the terms of reference is too broad. This makes us worry a bit… we need to ensure it’s not watered down just because some people think it’s too broad.”

Launching the review, Billson said the previously released draft terms of reference had been largely welcomed.

“We’ve been very encouraged by the overwhelming positive response that has come from states and territories and other stakeholders about the comprehensive nature of the terms of reference that we have released,” he said.

“We want to make sure that the learnings from the last 20 years are applied and to help bring about microeconomic reform, to improve our productivity and to support our competitiveness as a nation and as an economy.”

Billson says it’s important for the policy environment to support big and small businesses. He says the review will also work to identify gaps in the law, particularly around anti-competitive pricing “where the laws have been tested and in some respects, found wanting”.

Strong says this anti-competitive pricing is a key area of reform needed to help boost small business.

“We need it to be better defined. At the moment it’s difficult to pin someone down under this charge,” he says.

“We also want urban planning to be considered. It’s very important to our people and the performance of the supply chain. When there are too many retail monopolies, it limits the choice of the consumer and for the small business.”

The review will also look at provisions which have not been used in years and consider whether or not they’ve been poorly drafted or are now superfluous.

Within the next 12 months an issues paper, a draft report and a final report will be delivered.


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